For many people in the United States, a safe and stable source of animal protein is assumed. Yet even a cursory glance at the world around us reveals an incredibly fragile transportation infrastructure that carries a steak from factory farms to our tables. As the overall economy of this country continues to unravel, there is certainly the possibility that these logistics networks will be disrupted due to a number of reasons. Therefore, the prepared citizen must have a local, easily accessible and cost-effective supplement to turn to. Among … the common American garden snail, your very own low-maintenance feed animal.

Garden snails can be a valuable source of wild protein, but getting them from the field to the plate is no easy task. While garden snails roam the eastern US and much of the west coast, it would take some common sense techniques to make sure this food is safe to consume. For me the following steps seem to work quite well:

# 1 Catching the snails

First, create some shady and damp areas in the backyard. This can be done using cinder blocks or piles of leaves / twigs and other organic debris. After a rainy night, turn the pile over and you will find dozens of snails hidden underneath. These animals are quite beautiful to look at. Their translucent shells span the natural color gamut … from dull brown to spiral green and everything in between. An average snail hunt after a spring rain storm can spawn anywhere from a handful to a couple hundred snails.

# 2 Housing and sanitation of snails

Once the snails are captured, proceed to placing them in large, clean glass jars with about a quarter of an inch of fresh tap water at the bottom. I prefer Mason Jars for this task. Make sure to leave plenty of air holes in the lids of the jars so the snails can breathe. Place between 20 and 40 snails per jar, depending on the size of the jar. Once a day, the snails should be removed from each jar and washed gently with cold water, the jars should also be washed to clean up any snail poop and food debris. Dead snails should be removed immediately, this prevents the remaining snails from getting sick. The jars should be placed in a dark area, such as a closet, or under a tablecloth, or anywhere that is dark enough for the snails to get comfortable and start feeding.

# 3 Feeding the cattle

Kitchen vegetable trimmings should be placed in each canning jar to feed the snails. Rotten veggies, apple cores, carrots, and / or potato skins work great. Use common sense to judge how much to feed them. The bottle feeding and cleaning cycle should be done for a minimum of 1 week and possibly up to 2 weeks.

# 4 Harvesting the flock

Initially after capture, the snails will shed black and / or brown droppings. As you put them through a daily washing regimen and a kitchen scraps diet, the snails will receive a cleansing purge of their stomachs, and their droppings will gradually become lighter and take on the color of the food you give them. Greens should result in a light green or translucent stool, carrot skins should result in a translucent orange stool. It is important not to harvest the snails until this happens, it usually takes about a week for this purge to complete, but some batches may require up to 2 weeks. When ready, proceed to harvest all the snails in the mason jars and pour them all into a kettle of boiling water.

# 5 Preparing the meat

Wild snails should be cooked in boiling water (with added salt) for a minimum of 20 minutes to ensure that all parasites have been killed. After this step, the snail meat can be safely used as food. It has a smooth creamy texture that is very reminiscent of seafood. There is a wide variety of delicious dishes that can be prepared with snail meat. My personal favorites are the snail stuffed mushrooms and the snails garlic pasta sauce.

# 6 (optionally) tame the pack

Some friends of mine prefer to keep a small number of wild snails and tame them. I’ve never tried this for myself, but from what I’ve heard it could be done using very little space and essentially your food is our kitchen waste.

So there you have it, a hearty and wild source of meat that anyone can catch and prepare for themselves in times of emergency. For more tips and advice, visit my blog.

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